Catholic Charities was established in 1941 by Archbishop Robert Emmet Lucey as the Catholic Welfare Bureau, the social service arm of the San Antonio Archdiocese, to serve as a coordinating agency for other archdiocesan welfare programs, centering especially on the welfare of families and children in need.
Archbishop Lucey recruited Helen Montegriffo to head the program. In 1941, the Archdiocese of San Antonio included 195,000 Catholics. Montegriffo surveyed the needs of poor Catholics and, after only a few months, concluded that “it is impossible to picture the conditions that have been revealed” in San Antonio, including “hunger, nakedness, pain, disease, despair, ignorance, filth, and crime.”
In the agency’s first year, it assisted over 3,120 families and individuals, primarily in the form of financial assistance. However, other services such as education, food and referrals were also provided. From that point forward, the services were expanded to address the needs of the community, and structured programs were created to focus on specific relief programs. Some of these early programs included family and children’s services, natural family planning, jail ministry, hospital chaplains, Emmanuel Center for the Disabled, and foster and adoption programs.
Archbishop Lucey stated shortly before his death, “Fighting for the poor leaves no room for regrets.” He died on August 1, 1977.
Throughout the history of the agency, programs have been established to better serve vulnerable populations in San Antonio and the 19 surrounding counties which make up the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Among these programs is Immigration Services, established in 1973 as the first recognized immigration certification program in Texas, and Refugee Services, established in 1975 in response to the need of over 100,000 Vietnamese refugees escaping persecution. More recently, Catholic Charities has expanded its service to the community by bringing other organizations under the agency’s umbrella, including Senior Community Services in 1999, Catholic Charities’ Counseling Center and Guadalupe Home in 2001, San Antonio Birth Doulas in 2005, Guadalupe Community Center in 2006, Seton Home in 2015 and St. Peter – St. Joseph Children’s Home in 2016.